Should I start my own business?

Since starting my own business back in 2006, its something that I get asked every few months by someone:

“Should I start my own business?”

It’s always a tricky question to answer because there are so many different types of business. I also get asked what’s the best bit about running your own business, and having been an employee and now an employer, that I can answer more clearly.

So whats the best bits about having your own business?

  • You get to make decisions that will affect your future and the direction of your business
  • You can change direction quickly and explore new ventures without having to ask permission from anyone
  • You can work flexible hours
  • You get to choose where you work from, particularly if you run a business where you can work from anywhere with a laptop. We occasionally run one of my businesses from a local coffee shop!

Ground Coffee Shop - January 2016

  • You can balance work and personal commitments much more easily
  • You can choose the way your business will operate, and follow your ethics

Decisions, decisions, decisions!

One thing that it is important to stress is that running your own business involves so many decisions every day that if you are an on-the-fence sort of person, this is going to be difficult!

You will make plenty of decisions that in hindsight were not the best decisions, and the most important thing is that you learn from the not so great decisions so as to not repeat the mistakes.

There are down-sides to having your own business though….

  • Those flexible working hours can easily slip into an all-consuming number of hours. You need a wife / husband or significant other to keep you in check. Its always good to have someone who says “you need to be home for dinner by 5:30”, otherwise it will be 10pm and you will still be working on “just one last thing!”
  • The money management can be stressful, particularly when it comes to sorting out your accounts at the end of the year.
  • You will get a ridiculous amount of paper arriving in the post. Its a complete chore to read it, so make sure you have a large recycling bin.
  • Banks are still operating on procedures from the last century and are a nightmare. It doesn’t matter what bank you choose, they still require you to go in and visit in person, and use several forests worth of paper to set up a bank account.

Things you need to know at the start

  • HMRC and government departments don’t work on normal calendar years like the rest of society, they work on a ridiculous Financial Year model, where their new year (and thus yours) starts on the first Monday in April each year and ends at a day on or after the 31st March the following year. There is added complexity that your financial year is different again with it beginning from the month that you started your company.
  • You need to file annual company accounts with Companies House once per year
  • You need to file a different version of the same accounts with HMRC once per year. (You would think that submitting them once would do, but no, that would be much too sensible and easy for a government department!)
  • You need to also file a personal tax return with HMRC once per year

Sole trader or limited company?

So, if you have decided that you should start a business, the next question is whether you should go self-employed or start a limited company. I think that there is an easy way to decide this.

Do you have expensive personal assets like a car, house (with a mortgage) etc. that you don’t want to risk loosing?

If your answer to this is yes, then you should consider setting up a limited company. For some of my companies I have used https://www.rapidformations.co.uk – they have an online form that you use to add all your details and it costs about £15 and takes a couple of hours. Once you have set up a limited company it costs about £15 per year (that you pay to Companies House) to keep it registered.

If your answer is no, then you are probably better being a sole-trader. This makes your accounts much simpler, and you have less “with my company owner hat on” juggling to do. You ARE the company. One very important thing is that you have a completely separate business bank account for your business transactions. Don’t just use your current account, as at the end of the financial year this will make your life exceptionally complex.

Your biggest challenge is…..

The biggest obstacle you face in running a successful business is the ridiculously over-complex processes and hoops that the government makes you jump through. There are deadline dates, and if you miss them, the fines can sink a small business very quickly.

Keep a digital calendar, with reminders and always add the important dates in to it:

  • The date you started the company, and make it like a birthday where it repeats annually
  • When you get told when you have to submit your annual return by Companies House, put it in your calendar with an annual reminder for a week before. If you can complete it before they have to chase you thats always a good thing

Annual Accounts can be done very, very simply

You can complete your annual accounts really easily, using an excel spreadsheet. The best way is to use Companies House. http:/www.companieshouse.gov.uk – you have to keep your limited company details up to date once per year on there anyway.

  • Keep a spreadsheet with this minimal information:
    Record all the money you get IN on one sheet,
  • Record all money OUT on another separate sheet in the same spreadsheet
  • On a third sheet of the spreadsheet, in one row, record the balance of your bank account at the start of your financial year
  • Add money in to this amount, then take away money out, the result should be the amount currently in your bank account. If it isn’t, then you have missed something!

Final small pieces of advice!

  • Don’t be afraid to say no, its better to turn down work and disappoint one potential customer than to over-stretch yourself and disappoint two customers by not delivering
  • If you don’t have it, don’t spend it. You cannot go bankrupt if you don’t owe people money
  • Don’t be afraid to say no, its better to turn down work and disappoint one potential customer than to over-stretch yourself and disappoint two customers by not delivering.
  • Get help from experts – find a local business group and go along and ask lots of questions!
  • Try to use as little paper as you can, paper accumulates and at the end of the year you will find your kitchen table completely swamped with a paper nightmare. The easiest way to achieve this is to not buy a printer, store everything digitally (take photos of receipts that you have added to your spreadsheet).
  • Invest in your business. If you are running an IT business, and you have some money, don’t go and tie yourself in to a lengthy BMW monthly contract for a nice new car that looks flash, get the best IT equipment you can afford. If your computer doesn’t turn on in 3-5 seconds, you need to get better equipment, you will be using this a lot, and if it is slow then everything takes a long time!

Get help getting started

Find a company like Venture Mosaic that helps business getting started with their branding, materials and web presence as well as .

500 daily visitors!

500 Visitors a day!

Wow, what a milestone – my blog now receives over 500 unique visitors every day (well the vast majority of days anyway)! Its incredible to think that there is that much information on here that people find interesting!

The top post on my blog is (and has been for some time) Calibri and Cambria fonts for Mac, added back in 2013 as part of my move to the world of Mac. Since I moved to the world of brushed aluminium, I made the decision some 3 months later to move the software company I founded back in 2006 (ISArc) to now use everything Apple too. Its been a great journey, and the more we get into the world of Mac the more we find out new and interesting things about it. For example, did you know that pressing the Command + Up Arrow when in Finder takes you up a folder? So very, very useful to know! Moving to Mac’s brings with it several challenges, particularly when you get used to everything just working, most particularly when it comes to having to support older systems that we originally wrote in ASP.Net.

Our latest project is called Employability Support and is light-years ahead of where our systems would have been if we had stayed developing in the .Net environment mostly because of the wealth of technology out there that is now available that was not available for .Net. Our new systems use a great combination of PHP, JQuery and CSS to do all database calls asynchronously meaning a much better and smoother user experience.

My personal adventure in programming and computing continues and I am now involved in a local CoderDojo helping local kids to get inspired by technology and programming (and playing Minecraft). Its a great source of encouragement when you see 10 year olds writing mobile apps, and makes me realise just how important it is for me to stay up to date with technologies as they change.